QUINCY -- The Quincy High School volleyball team started its first tournament of the season with a loss.
It ended the day with a first-place trophy.
After falling in three sets to East St. Louis in the Pool A opener of the Quincy Early Bird Tournament, the Blue Devils rolled off four straight victories, culminating in a 25-12, 26-24 victory over the Flyers in the championship match.
"We really showed how we were a team," first-year QHS coach Tim Hill said after winning his first tournament with the program. "There were a lot of ups and downs today, but at all points, we never turned on each other. Even when we weren't playing our best, the team was a team the whole time on the court. They were picking each other up and that was amazing to see. I haven't seen that out of a team I've coached in the first week, and they are showing it right away."
The morning started with a 27-25, 27-29, 16-24 loss to East St. Louis that could have set the tone for the tournament. Instead, the Blue Devils (5-1) responded with a dominant showing against Plainfield South in a 25-17, 25-14 victory.
Adversity struck again in the final game of pool play, as QHS let a 19-12 lead in the first set slip away with Pekin winning 26-24.
Had the Blue Devils lost to Pekin they would have been sent to the loser's bracket.
"I told the girls that it was just another game, but none of them took it lightly," Hill said. "They knew the implications of that game, and they knew what they had to do."
The second set was tightly contested, but a string of great plays from Lauren Erke got the ball rolling in Quincy's favor. Erke slammed back-to-back kills, then sent back a block to hype up the QHS bench.
"Momentum is huge in this game, and if you don't have it, you're toast," Erke said. "I just knew we needed a point and needed to put it down."
Erke finished with six kills and two blocks against Pekin as Quincy rolled to a 24-26, 25-18, 15-7 victory. In the two games of the championship bracket, she had a combined eight kills and five aces, including a team-high seven kills against East St. Louis in the final.
"She was our spark all day, to be honest," Hill said of Erke, who was named to the all-tournament team. "She has her highs and her lows, but today, her lows weren't really lows anymore. She did a very good job, and her communication on the court is becoming better.
"Today she took over the tournament. If we don't have her have that day, maybe it's a different story."
QHS setter De'Onna Douglas was also named to the all-tournament team, and Blue Devils outside hitter Alexis Wolf was named the tournament most valuable player. Douglas has been in charge of running Hill's new quicker-tempo offense, and the more time she gets on the court the more comfortable she looks.
"She is getting a lot of confidence with her sets," Hill said. "We have been doing a lot of one-on-ones but now she is getting more into game-style scrimmages with her and she is understanding the offense that needs to be run. She is doing a good job of staying confident and keeping the whole team going."
Douglas said it helps to have a bevy of hitters at her disposal.
"It's nice when we have a lot of those hitters that are strong and powerful that can put the ball down, because that's what you need on a team," she said. "Without that, you might not have that much success, but we have all three positions filled with powerful players that can put the ball down."
Arguably the best game of the tournament for QHS came in the championship semifinals, where the Blue Devils beat Galesburg 25-18, 25-11 in their first meeting with a Western Big Six Conference foe. Wolf finished with six kills and four aces against the Silver Streaks, while Emma Sparrow had five kills, two blocks and an ace and Erke had three aces.
"I kind of wanted that one to be more of a, ‘we're going to go after this team, we're going to show them who we are and make a statement,' game," Hill said. "The next time we play them they will have the fear of what we just did and we will be able to build off of that and jump onto them pretty early."
As for what the tournament victory means as a whole, Hill isn't ready to declare his team a powerhouse in the state, but he admits they are off to a good start.
"It's so early into the season, every team is going to be different if we face them now versus the end of the season," he said. "It's always good to get these wins so we have our confidence, and we got a loss today so it's not a shock when we do get another loss because that's going to happen.
"The girls are playing great and pushing through, it's nothing to really read into but it's awesome to get the win, especially hosting a home tournament."